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article imageOp-Ed: Levi Bellfield murder trial – day eight Special

By Alexander Baron     May 19, 2011 in Crime
A report on the trial of Levi Bellfield for the attempted kidnapping of Rachel Cowles and the March 2002 murder of Amanda (Milly) Dowler.
Today I attended the trial in person for the first time, and received a frosty reception. Security at the Central Criminal Court front entrance is intense, and it is physically difficult to get in. This sort of paranoia dates back to the bombings by Irish Republicans – one of the warring white tribes of these islands – and has been intensified with the perceived Islamist threat.
Court 8 is on the second floor of this massive building, and on the door as I tried to gain admittance I asked first if I could ask a few questions on the record with a man I took to be a police officer but who turned out to be a press officer, Nathan. He confirmed that Milly Dowler’s sister Gemma had not actually testified yesterday although her statement had been read out, and although he genuinely wanted to be helpful he said there was no witness list and was unable to answer meaningfully any other questions such as how long will the trial last, and are the police investigating any other allegations against Bellfield, who will achieve the unenviable title of serial killer if he is convicted of this heinous crime.
Nathan said there were around a hundred witnesses, though he had no idea how many would testify in person. I was advised by the clerk of the court that although there were plenty of spare seats for reporters it was an all ticket affair, and that I would have to go upstairs to the listing office and apply for one. The lady in the office asked for my photo ID, which I had left at home but I did fortunately have my NUJ card. She didn’t issue me with a ticket but said she would phone the clerk of the court and a-okay me. When I went back down the clerk acknowledged this, and I took a seat.
Levi Bellfield was sitting in a glass dock, a glass cage really, with three guards, one of them a woman. Wearing a grey suit and nearly bald – from a haircut rather than from his genes – he could have passed for a businessman or a dealer here in the City of London. I had to remind myself that this was the man who drove around London and the Home Counties looking for young women to batter over the head for kicks.
Gemma Dowler was sitting at the side of the court with her parents on reserved seats. Today, the jury heard first from Hannah Macdonald, a friend of Milly. After giving her evidence she was cross-examined by Bellfield’s QC, Jeffrey Samuels, who managed to elicit from her that Milly was a joker and that “she liked to be liked”.
More significantly, she had become depressed at home over the name calling she had suffered at school; she was said to have had big nostrils. Referring to Miss Macdonald’s witness statement of June 17, 2002, which was quoted verbatim, it was revealed that Milly had once tried to slit her wrist, although on re-examination by Brian Altman QC, the fact was elicited that she had not actually broken the skin.
The defence is continuing its strategy of suggesting that Milly was a disturbed child who ran away from home and ended up dead in woodland twenty-five miles away with no suspicion of foul play, but it is clear from what we have heard so far that any problems she may have had at home or school were clearly no more sinister than those experienced by countless teenagers, especially girls, during what is often a difficult age.
The Crown continued by reading the statement of Christopher C. Price, who was at school with Milly; she was said to have borrowed his mobile phone to phone home. Other witness statements were read, and CCTV footage was shown. Computers and other equipment were planted all over this large, windowless room, and the jurors had six monitors, ie one between two. At first I thought Bellfield had one too, but I couldn’t see over the dock from where I was sat without disturbing the court.
Then the owner of the station café was called and examined at some length. At the break I recognised Nigel Pilkington sitting outside the court; he is the senior CPS lawyer who made the decision to charge Bellfield. I asked him if I might speak to him on the record. He declined. Then I was approached by Detective Superintendent Maria Woodall, who led the investigation. She was more interested in asking questions than answering them, and told me the press area was reserved for tickets only. I explained to her that the lady in the listing office had phoned the clerk, and that the clerk had waved me in, as she had; DS Woodall then said that the call had not been received, and added that ticket holders were limited to members of the Crime Reporters Association. Far be it for me to accuse a police officer of lying. She did though say there would be a full press briefing at some unspecified later date, which might not be until after the trial.
I made alternative arrangements, leaving the building and going up to the public gallery, which had considerably less security than the main door, and where I was told to ignore the “full notice” on the door, and also that I was not permitted to take notes.
I mused over whether the treatment I had received downstairs was being meted out to all freelances or just to me, and figured the latter, for reasons I won’t go into here.
Having said that, I actually had a better view up in the gallery, and could see that Bellfield did not have a monitor.
The proceedings today can be summed up in one word: prolix. The Crown was calling witness after witness and reading statement after statement to establish totally non-contentious facts. There was for example absolutely no reason for the café owner to have been called as a witness because a) he didn’t see anything meaningful and b) there were plenty of Milly’s schoolfriends in the place with her. The investigation into the death of Amanda Dowler began initially as a missing person inquiry, and it was literally years before Surrey Police had any sort of breakthrough. It is not unusual in investigations of this nature, size, scope and duration for the police to take literally thousands of witness statements, and at the end of the day, only a tiny percentage will be of any importance.
The case continues.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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